[Content warning: This post contains photographs of sexual assault, published with consent from the victim.]
When the stories about Brett Kavanaugh emerged, there were photos of him everywhere. I wondered how this impacted the women who came forward. Would seeing all those photos — not to mention live televised testimony — cause distress and remind them of the torment they have described? Or would it be reassuring to see photographs of him alongside articles written and read by millions of people who believe and support them?
Photos of the man who sexually assaulted me are ubiquitous. While he is not currently part of the national conversation, his image can be found in yoga studios and on altars all over the world. These photos are placed in reverence and adoration — despite what I and many other people know about him.
For a total of two years during the mid-1990s, I studied yoga in Mysore, India, with Pattabhi Jois, the founder of an athletic and intense yoga practice he called Ashtanga. It is arguably one of the most influential and popular styles of yoga in the world. During that time, Pattabhi Jois assaulted me, along with many other women in his classes, on an almost-daily basis.
At the time, the idea that the guru of this system could be abusing me seemed impossible.
I wanted to believe he was transferring a healing energy to me by touching me that way.
Practicing Ashtanga yoga gave me a sense of purpose and meaning. I was part of an elite group of certified teachers and advanced practitioners. It was my career and my passion. I felt healthy, fit, and capable. I had a sense of fulfillment; I had found where I belonged.
I also couldn’t bear the idea of being a victim. The very word carries with it a stigma I had internalized to mean flawed, weak, or pitiable. In order not to feel or be seen as those things, I deceived myself. I believed that Pattabhi Jois was not sexually abusing me. At times I even tried to glorify the sexual assaults. I wanted to believe what some people claimed, and still do, that Pattabhi Jois was transferring a healing energy to me by touching me that way. Rather than feeling pitiable, that thinking would allow me to feel lucky, like I was being blessed.
This may sound like consent on my part, but the power differential, and my fear of the repercussions if I protested — losing my friends, my career, and my sense of belonging — made consent impossible. I was powerless. Here was a yoga master, a heavy man, lying on top of me, humping me, while I was in compromising postures. I acquiesced. I endured. I tried to tune it out.
I did not consent.
I now choose to use the word victim, because for me, it speaks to my innocence in a situation of injustice.